Reflections from up high

I’m on a plane, somewhere between Seattle and Frankfurt. It’s my first leg, en route to my last leg, of grad school. I’ve taken this trip often this past few years, the last being about two weeks before this cancer thing presented itself. This time feels different though because, let’s face it, life is different…

img_1277

I’ve written a bunch of posts about my life after cancer. I’m told that my positive attitude is inspiring, and I’m glad about that. I want people to feel inspired. I feel better now than I ever have, and stronger. Still though, I haven’t done much to describe who I was before cancer, which may help you believe that all this stuff about cancer being motivational isn’t just crazy talk. If I’d been asked six months ago, I may have said that I am a positive, upbeat person. With a little extra probing I may even have claimed that I perfectly satisfied with my life and have everything I had ever hoped for. Truly, there wasn’t much I wanted to change then, (with the possible exception of my uncanny ability to, for whatever reason, make horrible decisions in my personal relationships). Bygones…

Things moved pretty quickly for me after cancer. It was like someone handed me a magic mirror and I saw my authentic self for the first time. Yikes. The story I had formerly spun was that of a fun-loving person who was committed to living life to the fullest, in my own way, the fun way. Kind of like a light-hearted beach read, with a few watermarked pages and bent edges, but loads of personality. The story was true to an extent, but with a few missing parts. The more comprehensive version was somewhere between the beach read and Dostoyevsky. There were, undoubtedly, some dark chapters.

The first truly independent and somewhat sophisticated thought I can remember having came at a very young age. My sister Amy and I were cross-legged on our pink and orange shag carpet, listening to our favorite record, the Sesame Street sing-along, specifically the Bein’ Green song by amphibious pop legend and prophet, Kermit the Frog. Amy, around three or four at the time, sang along innocently, as prescribed. I, just a couple years older, sat in silence, pondering the lyrics. I resolved that there was absolutely NO WAY that Kermit, who opened the 3 minute song with a round of self-loathing over his green skin pigment, could suddenly come to terms with his self-consciousness by the bridge of the song. I had what felt like at the time, a very dramatic realization that my sister and I approached life very differently. For the first time in my young life I felt the weight of being me, a feeling that followed me into adulthood. I was a person who would never be able to unconditionally accept life like Amy did and for that, I was destined to be, for lack of a better term, kind of screwed.

I may have been experiencing the onset of early self-actualization that day or maybe I was just practicing. Regardless, the idea that other people were able to navigate through life with an ease of motion that I was incapable of, given my compulsion to analyse things to death, was a lot. Because I was so young, I didn’t realize the impact of this. It was more like: “Why do I have to question EVERYTHING? Why can’t I be more like Amy?” And again, because I was so young, I couldn’t begin to fathom the implications this would have as I grew up. It stuck, this notion, and has been both a blessing and a curse.

Thinking more doesn’t always mean thinking better. Even Dostoyevsky describes overthinking as a disease. I suspect he was onto something. The complexity of my thoughts became exhausting at times, leading me to make rash decisions in attempt to simplify my life.  I coveted the idea of being part of the status quo – marriage, kids, career, that type of thing). I felt that anything else was a reflection of the flaws in my character which, admittedly, remained pretty well repressed until recently.

I’ve always felt that I missed out on some crucial life lessons somewhere along the way that would have saved me from the messes I made. Life, which turned out to be less Brady and more Blume, had some rough spots. I had to do a lot of growing up on my own and   got a lot of things wrong. I made many compulsive decisions in my trial-and-error based, auto-didactic road to (relative) maturity, and have had to endure some unpleasant consequences as a result. There came a point as I approached adulthood that I got tired of trying to make sense of things. The innocence of my youth had always afforded me a reasonable level of optimism – a sense that life, flawed as it may be, was pretty awesome. I believed that I would someday end up in my dream job, meet my soul mate, have a couple kids and spend my life in a state of uninterrupted bliss. The problem was that I was still me. Wherever I went, there I was.

 

My over-the-top need to have it all figured out prevented me from being at peace with myself and with the universe, which has had a negative effect on my relationships. Because I never felt settled, I struggled. Once, early on, I managed three years with one of the most awesome people I’d ever met (until recently, babe). We were a lot alike, compatible, and moved through life astonishingly well together. Like me, he was a questioner and a thinker. We shared the same taste in music, literature, movies, comedy, the works. It may have lasted if I had known who I was way back then, but I didn’t. Being with someone who was basically a more evolved version of myself served as a constant reminder of the disparity between who I wanted to be and who I clearly wasn’t. It made me feel like a fraud, which sucked. Of course, now I see clearly that it was all for the best. I was still restless then, with way too much to learn.

For years I avoided the relationship pitfalls that might trap me, and did an excellent job of not finding the right person to have a meaningful, healthy relationship. Being with someone good for me was terrifying, so I steered clear. I wove in and out of relationships, leaving when things got too real, existing in a state of constant motion.  I, as with everything, challenged the notion of happily ever after because it seemed potentially flawed and unachievable. Eventually I grew tired of feeling unsettled. It had become exhausting and I needed a break. I could have done anything at that point – moved to Hawaii and lived on the beach, backpacked through Europe, anything. Instead, I impulsively dove into a marriage that neither of us were ready for and gave the status quo a shot.

It didn’t work out, of course. How could it, when I had become a defeated version of myself? The following years were the best and worst of my life. Having kids made me happy. They were the one part of my life that felt purposeful. I learned to love unconditionally through them, which was amazing. Being a mother grounded me, and I needed grounding.

Through my 20’s and 30’s I felt like my own island, remote from the friends and family who all seemed to have figured out the formula for successful adulthood. I read this book once, Bucking the Sun, by Ivan Doig. It was a long time ago and I’m definitely going to screw up the reference but you know the part where the author always works in the explanation of an obscure title? Doig describes the act of ‘bucking the sun’ as something you do while driving on a Montana highway, heading west. The visor doesn’t quite block the intense light from the setting sun that is almost blinding you. You buck a little, lifting your head higher with eyes cast downward in an effort to avert the glare so you can stay on course. It was like that for me. I just kept repositioning myself, surviving and averting potential heartache. I began the next decade searching for answers…again. Another relationship, another attempt to drown out the annoying voice in my head that constantly nagged me to fix myself, to find my authentic life. That one didn’t end up so great either. Enough said.

Where am I going with this? Here’s the part where I hope an answer presents itself. It would be so awkward if I asked this rhetorical question and then…nothing…

I’ve recently begun to feel genuinely confident that I’m getting it right. Thank you, cancer; at least you’re good for something, you otherwise piece of shit. I’m experiencing a newfound balance between thinking and accepting that has brought me an overwhelming sense of peace. It’s almost like when you get something that you didn’t think you needed but later can’t believe you ever survived without. I used to feel so burdened by my need to resolve my questions. I repeatedly tried to change, to choose my battles, but could never quite get there. I worried that blind acceptance would somehow bury my head in the sand. It was, I see now, a simple matter of self-protection.

I used to feel resentment toward my less than ideal childhood and the less than perfect events of my adult life, but I really don’t anymore. Instead, I feel grateful for the lessons because they’ve expanded my capacity for understanding. Recently, I’ve learned quite a bit about growing through adversity. I’ve learned that when you arrive in a positive place in life you should honor rather than bury past experiences, whether good or bad, because they led you to where you are.

As it turns out, my past happens to contrast with my present in a really beautiful way. Without all those years of questioning my place in the universe (and whether I even had a place to begin with), it took the cancer for me to face the proverbial mirror and start working on a more honest re-write of my story. I’ve heard survivors talk about the loss of innocence they experience after cancer and it’s heartbreaking for me because I feel completely opposite. My hope is that everyone who has gone through cancer or any other adversity be granted a silver lining of some sort. Maybe I paid it forward with the rough patches, and cancer was my bridge, like in the Kermit song. Regardless, I feel somewhat cleansed now, purged of self-deceit and genuinely at peace with myself. The relationship issue? I’ve got that one sorted out, too, and have found someone who makes me profoundly happy. For that, and for everything that has ever contributed to where I am today, I feel blessed. It may be that I’m just grateful to be alive or that the blunt force trauma that rocked my world last spring has scared me straight. Whatever the reason, I have cancer to thank for where I am now, and all that I have. Yeah, I know. She’s a real bitch but come on, it’s not like we’re friends or anything. Sheesh…

No, I don’t love cancer.

It occurs to me as I’m writing these posts that the word cancer can be substituted for just about any other malady that has festered its way into one’s world. It could be a disability, like the loss of vision, hearing or mobility or something more complex, like depression, anxiety or other mental illness. Cancer is something crappy that happens and, when it does, your world is seriously rocked. You are forever changed and will learn to approach life differently, readjusting to the new norm as you would if you had lost a limb or the ability to see.

Cancer, whether defined by the invasive cells that were threatening to kill me or, from my current perspective, the word for that thing I “used to have,” will always be a part of me. Through my experience with this thing that was, is, and may or may not be again, I have come to realize that as our relationship becomes more ambiguous, I need to find cancer a home because, frankly,  it’s starting to seem a little like a house guest without a departure date.

Maybe it’s the increasing distance between my life now and my pre-cancer life that leaves me anxious to strike some sort of balance. I’m at a point where I can’t imagine being able to just think without cancer dominating my thoughts or, at best, chiming in on nearly everything like an annoying know-it-all. On one hand, it seems almost inevitable that this life changing event has gained some level of permanence in my psyche, although it would be nice to take a breather now and then.

I read the stupidest article ever a few weeks after I was diagnosed. It was so stupid I don’t even want to reference it but I can’t help myself. It was so stupid that I don’t even want you to read it. Don’t google it. It would be like me saying “smell this, it’s so gross” or “eat this, it’s rotten meat.” Take my word for it. The premise of the article was that you should LOVE your cancer. No kidding. It was clearly written by someone who hadn’t had cancer because if she ever had I believe it would be more along the lines of “why it’s okay to use explicit language to describe your cancer as in, my f@*#ing cancer, f@*# this cancer, or I canimages-1‘t f@*#ing believe I f@*#ing have cancer.” Love your cancer? People are so whacked out.

There’s a reason that the word cancer is used to describe other unpleasantness, such as, “oh my god, I’m so glad they broke up, he was like a cancer…” Let’s face it,  we have probably all lived with a metaphorical cancer at one point or another. And let’s face it again, it was probably a bad relationship. Let’s say, for example, you have a husband or boyfriend or even just a close friend who is bad for you, like, really bad. They attack and weaken you, try to eradicate every ounce of your positive energy, all the while compromising your physical and mental health, relentless in their pursuit to bring you to your knees. For instance.

Btw: If you happen to have the misfortune of being diagnosed with the real kind of cancer, and you find yourself with cancer on top of cancer, take action. For me, this situation resolved itself. If it hasn’t for you, you need to make it happen. One cancer is plenty. 

Back to it…so then…Joy of all joys, the cancerous relationship is severed! Divorce, break-up, job change or otherwise, you are liberated. You slowly rebuild your health, your self-esteem and at long last, your strength is restored. Your spirit is renewed. You are one of the more fortunate souls who has undergone this cancerous experience because you are able to learn from it and evolve out of your negative patterns, growing healthier and happier by the minute. Or maybe you were just scared straight. Whatever the reason, you are moving on in the right direction and know that the thing that threatened to break you is gone and will stay gone.

Maybe you fall in love again, or marry again, or make a new best friend. Life is positive and wonderful and you want to think about rainbows and unicorns and sparkly things instead of CANCER. How does that work? Where does your past experience fit into your future? For me to make sense of this, I had to divide cancer into two parts. The first is the disease itself – the tests, tumors, surgeries and rehab. Or, speaking metaphorically – the toxicity, stress, conflict and exhaustion. The second part of cancer is the experience itself – lessons, relationships, heightened awareness and understanding (and yes, you can continue to apply the metaphor where appropriate). Of course, to benefit from the experience piece you need to be willing to extrapolate a few positives from the former. Seriously though, if you can manage that, the experience part is waaaaaaaaay better than the disease part. Go figure.

For me, it’s settled. Experience reigns supreme and will be the part of cancer that I allow to live within me. Going forward, though, I don’t always want it be about cancer. Hopefully it evolves to a point where it becomes less and less about the disease and more about living the best possible life imaginable, right? Maybe in doing so, my happiness affects others in a positive way and the world is a bit better off?  That’d be kind of awesome.

Back to the “I heart cancer” ridiculousness. I’m not even sure why I mentioned it other than to emphasize the point that while I am working to find a “place” in my world for cancer, it sure as heck isn’t because I’m in love with it. It’s not like some kind of a Stockholm Syndrome situation, although I’m sure some other nutjob has written about that, too. I have no idea where cancer will ultimately take up residence in my world but I know one thing is certain – it won’t be in my heart.

I don’t love cancer. I love the answers it helped to reveal and the healing effect it’s had on my soul. Above all, I love the peace, the love and the gratitude I have found as a result of cancer. But cancer itself? She is such a total bitch. We are so not friends.

Love Peace Gratitude 4Life©

 

People and things…

I feel things so much more deeply these days. I was told this would happen…

One of the first “whoa” moments (yes, it’s a modification of the great O’s “aha” but I can’t just be re-using coined phrases, can I?), came a few days after my diagnosis. Gotta stop here to say that if this is the first of my posts you’ve ever read, that weird little parenthesized aside up there came in much earlier than normal. Not usually first paragraph stuff so I apologize, although you may want to just settle in and get used to it. It’s my voice. What can I say?

Back to business – I want to spend a few posts talking about extraordinary people and things that have made me say “whoa” or “oh my god” or “HO. LEE. SHIT. WOW. OKAY THEN” or even rendered me speechless (rare). All of these things, call them whatever cute little catch phrase you like, are synonymous with my amazement in having the universe just flat out drop things in my lap when I have most needed them. The “things” came in various form: answers, understanding, patience, calm, forgiveness, hope, composure, strength, vulnerability, and love like you wouldn’t believe! These things I’ve been given were made possible by the most amazing gift from a relative stranger that, without question, changed the course of my life.

If I was a director setting the scene, as it was, when this life-changer occurred, it would look something like:

Woman, 47, has just been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and has been basically existing in a state of shock and panic for several days. She hasn’t yet shared the news with family, including her children, but randomly told a trusted colleague and friend, perhaps an effort to practice breaking the news although it is unclear. She is sure she is going to be dead in a year and can barely look her daughter in the eye because it’s too painful to imagine not watching her grow up. It’s pretty bad.

The colleague/friend has shared the woman’s news with his other friend, who is also a highly esteemed oncologist currently on sabbatical. The doctor, not knowing a thing about the woman other than her diagnosis, offers to call her. The friend asks the woman how she feels about that? The woman replies “sure, that’s fine” with little expression. It plays out like this:

And so I was driving, kind of lost. Lost in my thoughts and lost in the confusion of the cancer but also literally lost, as in, I hate my GPS and I’m late and I have no idea how to get back to I-5, lost. I was thinking about being lost, too. About how what I really need now was to navigate through this mess, figuratively, literally, the works. As I am pondering away, my phone rings. It is the doctor, friend of my friend. I had completely spaced the conversation, but found a place to pull over to talk. Honestly, I was thinking it would be about a 5 minute conversation. I doubt he really wanted to be spending his time off (turns out he is also on vacation) talking to cancer patients. I was wrong. Turns out that this man, who has never been my actual doctor, was  about to initiate my healing, over the phone, from Palm Springs.

The first thing he said was that he wasn’t calling to give medical advice, and that because he wasn’t currently practicing, he couldn’t do so anyway. He wanted, rather, to talk about the process I was about to go through. He didn’t use the word journey, which I thoroughly appreciated. He asked me to describe my diagnosis, my family situation, my job, and my life in general. He listened to me go on and on, interjecting only briefly for clarification, until I had, for the first time, shared my story in its entirety. He then spoke to me and, even months later, I can still remember the sensation of my numbness being replaced by something new – hope, maybe? It was electrifying.

He told me that cancer was systemic and that my approach needed to reflect that. Although I would feel overwhelmed by the many doctors and tests and would likely be inclined to look ahead and what is next, I needed to remain in step with whatever tests or treatments were currently being done. All I had been able to think about was whether or not the cancer had spread and to where and how much. He told me that it would be revealed in time and that it was important to stay in the moment. He also told me, as did the radiologist when he unofficially diagnosed the tumor he found, that “cancer is not a death sentence.” A good one to remember.

He also told me that for all the questions and uncertainty that I would encounter in coming weeks and months, there were a couple things I could be certain of.  These “couple of things” ended up being everything – the driving force through which I have been able to manage this crazy ride for the past five months and I am beyond grateful to have them as my guide. Here they are. Seriously, you’re going to want to cut and paste this shit, whether you have cancer or not.

He said (and of course I’m paraphrasing – it’s not like I was writing it down),

“Tracy, there are a couple of things you can be sure will happen.

You are going to experience a lot of twists and turns as you go through this process. You will receive both good news and then you’ll get bad news, repeatedly. It’s just the way it goes. You’ll never know what’s coming next and you shouldn’t waste your energy guessing or worrying. You just need to accept that. The important thing is that you take care of yourself and of your family, and do what you can to facilitate the healing process.”

That was some good stuff, but it got better. The next thing he said is more fundamental to my existence and my relationship to the universe  than I can begin to describe. I have used it to reign myself in when I feel scared by a lump or a cough or a headache. I have drawn on its power when I feel frustrated or impatient or stressed out or when I think I’m too busy writing these posts to sit down with my daughter and talk about middle school girl drama. Most importantly, I use it when I feel like a victim of cancer, or anything else for that matter, and instead, it helps me to feel joy and gratitude for the moments I’ve been given. Again, I paraphrase,

“Lastly, I will tell you this and it is the best news by far. You may not know what the future holds, but know that in the end, you will be better. You will be a better mother, daughter, sister, and friend. And you will be a better person for having experienced cancer. You will be more compassionate, empathetic and grateful and you will help others become better as well. And you know what else? You will love more strongly than ever, and you will hold on tighter to the people who you love in ways that people who haven’t gone through cancer can’t even fathom. I’m sure it’s not the ideal way to achieve this, but it’s going to feel really good.”

This conversation with the doctor – it brought me no closer to knowing whether I would live or not live through cancer. There was no new insight provided that suggested what stage or phase my cancer was in, or whether it was hormone receptor positive or genetic. Months of tests would answer those questions. It was, our conversation, my GPS (one that actually worked) and my salvation. It wasn’t about do I live it was, from then on, about how I would live. It hasn’t all been smooth, and there will always be twists and turns, but it’s good, this living. It’s really, really good.

Note:  I’ve re-gifted this many times, adding my own small pieces here and there. I hope you will, too. 🙂

Love Peace Gratitude 4Life©

The rewrite…formally titled but now having very little to do with “Boobs and stuff”

Every now and then I catch myself expressing my opinion and realize, mid-rant, that I’m not comfortable with my own perspective. I typically don’t make this discovery until I’m in too deep to pivot. Consequently, I either commit to my own bullshit idea or pretend to be distracted by something shiny and quietly disengage. There are also times, like this one, when it doesn’t hit me until much later that I was off track.

In my first attempt to talk about my feelings related to breasts I cheated myself by approaching the topic from a superficial place. I allowed insecurity and doubt to guide my thinking, which disallowed me to find truth in my issue and end-resulted in a vacuous, uninteresting post. Not exactly the provocative content I’m going for here.

One thing about committing to a life of perpetual growth (I’ve done this, by the way, or have I mentioned?) is that, with practice, it becomes increasingly more comfortable to acknowledge my shortcomings. It’s actually amazing how much power is in, simply,  the desire to be better. Listening, communicating, questioning, and re-thinking with open-mindedness and humility lead to revelations and revelations are liberating. It is through this process that I’ve managed to clear away destructive habits and absolute garbage that has been accumulating within for years, making way for positive energy and healing.

Speaking of liberating (and then we’ll get onto the topic alluded to in the title), I would like to suggest the practice of giving yourself permission to be honest. I bet there are a thousand times more “to thine own self be true” tattoos in existence then there are people being true to themselves. It may be very difficult at times to truly examine yourself at times, to take a hard look at the person in the mirror (it’s more difficult when you just wake up and your hair looks like mine), but it’s where you have to start. You have to ask yourself to change your ways. Honestly, there’s no message that’s going to sound any clearer: take a look at yourself and make that change, y’know? Someone should totally write a song about that.

I’d like to pause for a sec to examine my obviously liberal use of punctuation, specifically the excessive commas and awkward syntax of which I’m sure you are acutely aware and possibly even annoyed by. A year ago I may have adamantly defended my choices and maybe even provided material to support whatever parts of it were interpretive enough to argue, perhaps even referencing stream of consciousness aficionada Gertrude Stein, or ee cummings, master of distinct and non-traditional poetic form. Today I embrace my style, thankful for the way it contributes to my expression. Liberating.

Now, back to the boob post. When I think of breasts, which I will from hereon refer to as boobs because the word breast reminds me of chicken, I think of them first as something men look at. I know . I have TWO kids. I should definitely be thinking of boobs/breasts as the essence of life itself and symbolic of the bond between mother and child but, I’m not gonna lie, I just don’t so what are you gonna do. I suspect that most men have been staring at magazine boobs since the first time they got their hands on a porn mag, pacifying themselves with Playboy’s finest until they got their first real look. They seem to really like them. Not being male, I’m not exactly sure what the big deal is. Sincere appreciation of the female form? Mommy issues? Or perhaps just plain old sex stuff. I really don’t know.

Women, on the other hand, seem to chime in on the topic with decisive, albeit varying. opinion. I suspect we may be largely influenced by our innate desire, or lack of such, to be appealing to men. Some women could care less about size, some want them huge, some maintain them like car tires, replacing, rotating, making sure they have plenty of tread. Others want them small and manageable, cramming them into sports bras so they don’t flop around. Seriously, I have a friend who wears a sports bra with everything, including cocktail attire. She could care less. Incidentally, I have another friend who I like just as well who spends more on push ups then groceries, constantly striving to go bigger and better. And then there are women like me, who I think probably comprise the majority regarding our breasts. For me, historically at least, they’ve always just kind of been there, hanging out, so to speak. They started small, got bigger, and bigger again after kids. They changed shape so I changed bras. I honestly didn’t used to give them much thought. Sorry, boobs of my past.

Clearly, things have changed for me. For months I’ve been thinking of little else. Ironic, right? Lately I’ve been having an inordinate number of conversations involving my boobs with doctors and clinicians, friends and family. Everyone wants to chime in about my reconstruction – how big they’re going to be, whether silicone or saline, that kind of thing. I have heard from several friends that I am sooooooo lucky to get a boob job out of this deal. They are sooooooo totally jealous. It’s actually pretty humorous.

Can we pause again for a bit? I need to add a little side comment here because I don’t know where else to put it. If you are one who is fortunate enough to still have your boobs, please try and refrain from bitching about them so much. At least they’re yours. Love them, or if you don’t, get a boob job and move on. Either way, pretty please, show a little gratitude for the fact that they are still attached to your body and not removed because they were chocked full of nasty cancer cells. Can we agree?

It’s hard to focus on boobs right after a cancer diagnosis because you’re probably pretty likely to be focused on death. And then life. And then life and death. And then test results. Good news. Bad news. Delays. Appointments. Reactions. Hospital bills. Drugs. The boob aesthetic, on the other hand, doesn’t really factor in at this point. After my diagnosis, I felt about my boobs as I would a venomous spider latching onto my neck. I just wanted them off. Vanity what? Boyfriends what? Sex what? Loss of femininity? Not my particular focus at the time. I wanted to live and the stupid, disease-ridden things were trying to kill me. They just needed to go.

A few months later, no longer having my original boobs but, in their place, an expander (think instrument of torture over-filled with 450 cc’s of saline). The spider had now been replaced buy a boa constrictor and I started missing the old me, (not the cancer part). It’s not like they were so great, not at all perfect given the mileage, and average size, but at least they were reasonably comfortable. And (bonus) they pretty much looked like everyone else’s so they blended. I blended.

I obsess a little more now regarding the significance of boobs. I suppose they are pretty iconic, adorning everything from statues of ancient Greek goddess artsy fertility symbols, National Geographic photographs from Africa and housewives of the OC. Coming of age heroines have agonized over growing them, headlines have highlighted the injustices of exposing them while breastfeeding, and plastic surgeons have made their careers customizing them for the dissatisfied lot.

It would be awesome to say it doesn’t matter – that my health is everything and I’m not concerned with the superficiality of reconstruction. It would be awesome but it would be bullshit. It matters for a few reasons, the first of which has something to do with the role breasts play in how I identify with my own femininity. The second is that men, clearly, prefer that women have them. That also matters. It’s my blog. I can say that so don’t even go there.

I guess I’ve been feeling a little left out of the boob game lately. I vacillate between feeling frustrated at the long process of expanders and injections and surgeries and feeling like my life is a little bit on hold because I’m not totally complete. I know…it’s petty and ridiculous considering the context, but reasoning with insecurity is truly a beast of a proposition. The good news is that my plastic surgeon is an amazingly talented doctor and promises that I will have a great outcome. That being said, as I sort through my feelings about all the boob stuff, I arrive at a point where I reflect on gratitude. I am deeply grateful for so much these days, for life itself. I am thankful every day for my health, physical and emotional, and the moments that take my breath away, from the simple to complex. Most of all, I am grateful that through all that has happened in the past six months, my ability to love is approaching superpower proportion. I think about it all the time, reflecting on its healing power and positive energy as I continue to learn and grow. I think of how blessed I am to have people in my life to share my superpower with and, even more so, how cool it is that they love me back.

LOVE. PEACE. GRATITUDE. 4LIFE

 

The allegory of the cave, explained by me (and Plato I guess, but mainly me because it’s my post so, yeah…)

I may get this a little wrong so calm down if you’re a philosophy geek who knows everything. I’m remembering from decades ago the allegory of the cave, Plato’s explanation of reality. He used an imagined conversation between his mentor, Socrates, and a student, some guy. Yeah – I know, eventually someone’s gonna throw in a comment with the guy’s name. Have at it. So the allegory of the cave, wherever I heard it first, had an impact on me. I was the kid in class who came in out of a semi-sleep state, mostly to draw things like 3-D boxes and scrappy self-portraits or experiment with new ways to sign my name. Suffice it to say, I had attention span issues. Given this, it was always somewhat significant when I did connect with a new idea and, over the years, I’ve been consistently impressed when they have turned up to help me make sense of some pretty major life events. The Plato allegory was no exception.

It goes something like this. A bunch of prisoners sit in a row in a dark cave, legs and necks shackled so that they can only see straight ahead of them to a wall. Behind them there is a fire and between the fire and their backs there are puppeteers walking on a path holding various figures, like people and animals. All the prisoners are able to see is the form (shadows) that the figures make on the wall. This is their reality. Plato believes that form is a shallow understanding of reality because, clearly, it is a secondary interpretation of the real thing, the actual object casting the shadow. Regardless, the prisoners spent their days discussing the shadows with each other, forming opinions about who described one form or another better and ranking one  another accordingly.

Today, as I reflect on my life before cancer, I feel like I also experienced this type of false perception. I saw my life, relationships, responsibilities, family and the world in general at face value, as it happened to appear before me. My obligation to interpreting and valuing the true meaning of the facets of my life was limited to my experience. I was born looking a certain way and living in a certain way. I had a family, I had friends and I developed relationships with people. I formed opinions of the people in my life as they presented themselves. I had an idea of who I was by what I saw in the mirror, what people said about me, or how I was rewarded or punished. When I wanted to get a little deeper I would read a book and maybe the author would give me a few more ideas to think about. My reality consistently expanded and consequently, I felt that I was growing and evolving nicely. My universe did not feel limited in the least. 

The allegory continues when Plato describes a prisoner becoming free of the chains and turning around. Or maybe they all did. I forgot. Anyway, he or they turn around and when they see the actual people holding the figures, they were blown away by the details. They realized all at once that their reality had been false and that these figures which had way more depth and detail were real, while their formal perception of reality had been totally wrong.

When I was given the news that I had cancer, I realized all at once, literally in a single moment, that I had it all wrong. I was part of a slow burn to the finish line. I had been accepting reality as it presented itself, using a 2=dimensional approach to my perception of what life really meant. That’s all I knew. I suspect that may be all that most of us lead with. The news came and for the next few days, weeks, my life passed in front of my eyes, just like you hear about, but in slow motion. As the events of almost half a decade presented themselves for my review, something really amazing happened. It was like I was given a second shot at seeing my life. I couldn’t relive it but I could re-examine it. I saw value in things that I previously thought to be trivial and dismissed a ton of cluttery junk that I now deemed worthless. I truly felt that I was given the ability through this experience of seeing the details for the first time. Everything was more vivid and I was acutely aware of what it was to feel real life.

In the last part of the allegory, Plato allows a prisoner to escape the cave and spend time in the outside world. There is sun instead of fire so suddenly reality is not only detailed but vivid and clear, unobstructed by the shadows and firelight. His perception of reality is again altered. When he returns to the cave he tells the other prisoners about what he saw and, sadly, they think he’s lost his mind. He, knowing what he saw to be real, now sees the prisoners as ignorant, separated from reality in the cave. He continues trying to explain (like any good philosopher) but, I’m guessing here, how could he possibly?

I sometimes have an overwhelming urge to evangelize my experience with cancer because it has taught me so much. It probably annoys some people. I don’t remember exactly what it was like to not know what I know now, to not feel what I’m able to feel. The freedom, the peace, and the gratitude that I hold with me now measure the details of the world around me. I look at it now with a deeper love than I could have ever previously imagined. My sincere hope is that I can encourage others to look beyond their perceived views of the world and relish in the awesome details that await them.

LOVE. PEACE. GRATITUDE. 4LIFE

Cancer makeover

For the first days following my surgery to remove the cancer, I obsessed over a mental image of my cancer sitting in a petri dish somewhere, powerless. The idea made me think of the ways that my body had been supporting those cancer cells, feeding them. I turned to the internet for answers. I scoured medical journals, blogs by people whose cancer had been cured by traditional medicine, naturopaths rebuking traditional medicine, and stories of spontaneous, natural healing through diet and alternative treatments. This is enough to make anyone crazy. Being told I have cancer was one of the most frightening events of my life. The  realization that I had the responsibility to make independent decisions that would direct my treatment and determine my outcome was beyond frightening.

One thing that stood out to me was the power that nutrition has to support or restrict cancer. Growing up in the 70’s, we consumed some serious crap. Even in my house, where my mom shopped at the Co-op and crammed buckwheat into anything that may otherwise taste halfway decent, the crap food permeated our pyramid. Spam. Red dye #3. Refined sugar. Kool-aid. Bleached flour. Pesticides and more pesticides. Jello. GMO’s. Cancer causing crap was everywhere around us – water, nuclear power plants, toxic dirt, the backseat of the station wagon our parents hot boxed us in as they sucked down Pall Mall’s with the window cracked a half inch.

When they tell you it’s cancer you think of all this stuff. The jello and cigarettes and asbestos filled classrooms. Of course, the past doesn’t matter at this point but the present is everything. There is SO SO SO much you can do to get healthier. I did a ton of stuff. Here’s what…

  • Throw away your refined sugar. Replace with xylitol, coconut sugar, date sugar, fruit juice, raw honey, molasses, brown rice sugar or barley malt syrup. It tastes natural and good and it won’t slowly kill you like refined sugar will. Seriously, sugar sucks.
  • Throw away your crappy bleached flour.  Replace it with whole wheat flour, spelt flour, brown rice flour, coconut flour, soy flour, millet flour, amaranth flour, arrowroot flour, teft flour, almond flour, oat flour…you get the point. Whit flour sucks, too.
  • Eliminate processed foods.
  • Eat way, way, way more raw foods.
  • Buy organic. I know there are people who disclaim the benefits and say organic is a scam. Whatever. Pesticides suck. I’d rather eat something that got a little pesticide through inadvertently contaminated soil than something that doesn’t even pretend to be organic. The FDA has a way to go with these regs but it’s getting better.  Wash everything really well.
  • Read the ingredients. If they sound sketchy, they’re probably going to slowly kill you.
  • Are you still drinking soda?  Get over it. The Devil Incarbonate.
  • Smoking? Ew. You know what to do here.
  • Fat is a breeding ground for cancer. Get less fat by any means necessary. Eating and not eating the above list will have an amazing effect on eliminating fat. Exercise will exacerbate the process nicely. Get on it.
  • Stop using chemicals in your house and in your yard. Throw them away and go natural. Why wouldn’t you?
  • Buy a Vitamix and a Dehydrator and use them.
  • Read Paul Nison’s “Raw Food Formula for Health.”  Raw food makes you healthier and makes you feel better.
  • Question chemo. That’s all I gotta say about that.

I did a bunch of this stuff. I started right away and was really diligent as I awaited all my test results to find out if chemo was going to be recommended. I will never know if I would have chosen chemo or not but I was definitely prepared to defend myself against it.

Yeah, it’s a lot. And, yeah, it’s easy for me to sit here and type out a list of things for other people to do. It comes down to this – why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you want to feel better, look better, and be stronger and healthier? You are probably eating poison on a daily basis. You are feeding cancer cells with the crap in your cupboard, your fridge, your drive-thru’s. You are avoiding exercise that could help save your life. You want to wear a pink ribbon or do you want to actually affect a positive outcome practicing proven methodology that reduces cancer death probability? Seriously. Throw shit away and start being healthy.

LOVE PEACE GRATITUDE 4LIFE

 

I’m not really much of a pink ribbon girl, turns out…

I’m not really down with a lot of the traditional cancer hoopla. Personally, walks for hope and ribbons don’t make me feel better or stronger but rather like a distraction from the purposeful activities intended to reduce my risk of recurrence. Talking with others who have had or have breast cancer, on the other hand, does make me feel good because I want us to help each other stay positive and live life well. So does eating organic food, taking supplements, banning chemicals from my space, reducing stressors and the RSO I  take every night before sleep that makes me dream a little weird but helps to kill any loose cancer cells that may be floating around.

My point is, I don’t think that wearing a ribbon or a pink visor or an I Heart Boobies bracelet has any actual healing properties. It may incite a level of hope but, independent of action, that can be a dangerously ineffective proposition. When you’ve got cancer, pure hope is best left to the poets. Encouraging and empowering as it may seem, pink can’t replace the mindful, targeted actions that can affect positive outcomes. b59e6cf3e70fa491a93743ffd00ff584

I’ve heard it said that ‘the power of positive thinking’ is everything and I totally disagree. You can’t think your way out of cancer or any other health affliction any more than you can think your way to the perfect beach body by June. Fortunately though, things like proper diet, exercise, sleep and meditation will make you healthier and happier. It’s kind of like my Gold’s Gym key fob – totally worthless if I don’t leave the couch. My advice? Don’t rely on a color to get you through what is probably the greatest and most consequential period that you’ve ever gone through. Rather, supplement your swag with, for example, a big handful of kale in your organic smoothie and a walk in the park.